A telemedicine system set up to help stroke patients has been declared a success by the NHS Cumbria & Lancashire Cardiac and Stroke Network (CSNLC).
Over the last 18 months, the telemedicine system has provided 24x7 access to thrombolysis treatment from remote specialists. The telestroke network serves eight hospitals that in turn serve 2.2 million people.
For this extensive population and extended rural area, 16 consultants are able to deliver 24/7 thrombolysis treatment to patients with acute ischaemic stroke using Polycom's RealPresence video systems.
Working with Polycom partner MultiSense Communications, each hospital site is equipped with a telestroke system that includes Polycom Practitioner Carts and their mobile HD video in the hospitals, and Polycom CMA Desktop video collaboration software installed on the clinician's home PC.
Over 520 patients in Cumbria and Lancashire have now benefited from the telestroke service since its launch in July 2011, with over 220 of those patients receiving thrombolysis.
The telestroke service frees up time for doctors in busy A&E departments who now have on-demand access to a stroke physician for bedside consultations. The service also reduces the workload of on-call radiologists, because now they're called in only if an expert opinion is required.
In addition to improving care for patients, improving coverage and work-life balance for physicians, and saving lives, the telestroke service is also said to have reduced the NHS costs associated with dependent stroke care by approximately £30,000 per patient.
"There was a need to have a technology available to us where we can see and assess the patient and that's where the Polycom Practitioner Carts have been extremely helpful. Based on the initial description of the patient we decide whether this patient would benefit from having a video consultation," said Dr Tahir Nasir, a consultant stroke physician.
"Now with the Polycom video carts, while based in my own house, I can assess the patients in these eight different centres. I can talk to the patients and I can examine them. The Polycom camera on the other end is a very sophisticated instrument where I can zoom in and direct it in various directions."
The CSNLC are now incorporating the technology into other areas of care. One hospital, for instance, is using the Practitioner Cart to enable visual assessments of cardiac patients.
This hospital has installed network points into all of the coronary care beds where patients stay on the coronary care ward post-thrombolysis treatment, so the other hospitals within the network can provide cover for the cardiac patients in the coronary care unit if an expert opinion is required at night.
The telestroke network has not only helped save lives but has also helped to prevent many patients from suffering long-term conditions resulting from strokes.
"Due to the telestroke service being in place today more patients are alive, more patients suffer less disability, and more patients are less dependent on carers and nursing homes to provide care," said Elaine Day, service improvement and development manager at CSNLC.
Results of a five year study on telemedicine showed that patients can be treated virtually by physicians as effectively as if the patients made physical visits to the doctor's office. In another finding, the remote treatment also improved doctor-patient communications.